Archive for the ‘Dog reviews’ Category

Happy dog story

Posted: June 5, 2016 in Dog reviews
Tags: ,

In January we voluntarily returned Xena, Warrior Puppy to her breeder. She was five or six months old and exceptionally reactive to noise and movement. Our urban environment pushed her and us to the brink.

Now we have a new puppy, our lucky dog Lucky, but of course we wonder what’s happening with Xena. This week we found out. The breeder broke Xena of her overwhelming urge to chase moving vehicles, but apparently this still wasn’t a dog you could give to a couple who just want a pet to hang with. The breeder found a compromise: Xena is now working under the direction of two cattle dogs, herding livestock on a ranch in Eastern Oregon!

Corgis are the smallest herders. (When we got our first corgi, I tried running with her, but she kept trying to herd me into the nearest barn.) This is excellent news. When I heard this, I felt something unclench inside.

Xena’s duties include traffic control, large mammal management, and corral administration. Other projects as assigned. She’s probably been given a new name, which I hope is something like Red Sonja or Rodeo Queen. She has a home, a pack, and a purpose.

Best of luck in your new job, little Xena!

Hard day's night
It’s been a hard day’s night.

And here’s Lucky’s reaction when I gave him the news about his predecessor:

Graduation gift 042216

The naturalist Hal Borland wrote a memoir called The Dog Who Came to Stay. You can tell from the title how that story turned out. This story is not that story.

In September we promoted a promising new player to our family: a 10-week-old corgi. We named her Xena, Warrior Puppy.

debate prep
Xena listens to another Republican presidential debate.

Soon we were all in love, despite having to rush her outside in the middle of the night and the accidents on unlucky carpets. We were all planning to live happily ever after.

Right?

Long-term readers of this blog know I’m about to say Wrong!

We lived happily ever after for approximately two months while Xena grew from a 6-pound puff ball into an actual canine. Then she got scared. We don’t know what the trigger was, but I blame the folks on the next block who are addicted to inflatable Disney crap. One night right before Halloween, Xena and I encountered the huge gaseous Minions these style masters had staked to the grass (and the side of the house, and the roof). Xena immediately turned and rushed me homeward. I figured she had good taste.

Wrong!

Over the next three months, Xena conceived a theory of the world as being about as safe as the set of The Walking Dead. She became afraid of cars, trucks, bikes, scooters, and joggers. True to her name, she wanted to fight them. It took me an hour to negotiate a truce between her and our exercise cycle. Xena was suffering from what’s called “reactivity.” It’s uncommon. We were stuck with it.

We read the research. We hired experts. We tried various fixes. We despaired. We couldn’t walk Xena in our own neighborhood. On Tuesdays, when the Trucks of Terror came for our garbage and recycling, my wife and our dog had to be somewhere far away – one of Saturn’s moons, for example. We had to smuggle her into parks, waiting in the car until we had a clear run for the trees. It was like living in O. Henry’s “The Ransom of Red Chief,” where the desperate kidnappers pay the father to take his brat back.

Few things in life are as unsettling as a dog erupting two feet from your head at 4 in the morning because she wants to chase down and kill a freight train trying to sneak past her – a mile away. In all the years we’ve lived with corgis, only one ever reacted to a moving train, and that was because she’d spotted a man standing in the open door of a boxcar. Emma knew that was a safety violation.

No one here at the Bureau was thriving.

Special D finally called the breeder, who said she’d never had a litter like this and that two other people had already returned their pups. We said, we’re returning ours.

It was an emotional decision, made even more emotional by the lengthy drive to the mountain town Xena came from. Now we’d lost three dogs in three years, but this one was still alive. And ready to attack.

Xena was quiet most of the trip (we could only give her breaks in secluded areas off the highway), but when we got within 15 miles of her ancestral home, she started to bark. She knew where she was.

We arrived after dark. Xena almost flew out of the back of the car. I put her in the breeder’s arms. Xena wiggled with joy and licked the woman’s face – and then she turned and licked mine.

She’s saying goodbye, I thought, and she’s pierced my heart. No, of course not, I told myself; humans think that way, not dogs. We endow our dogs with human personalities. We speak for them. But we are not dogs and dogs are not us.

I realized that I couldn’t go through life thinking that I had failed this dog and yet she still had the decency to wish me well.

So I changed my thinking.

Xena is back at the breeder’s, with her mother and two of her siblings, in a rural area with little traffic. She’ll eventually go to a home with a lower threat level than our place. She’ll feel safe. She’ll thrive.

Xena wasn’t saying goodbye on that cold, disturbing night. She was saying thank you.

That was a month ago. Yesterday we brought home a new dog. We’ve named him Lucky. We hope this one will stay.

 

Cleo at her command post
This dog is guarding the house.

We had to put our dog Cleo to sleep yesterday. She had been gradually losing control of her back legs, but her descent had accelerated and she was spending more time just sitting, inspecting the grass around her and taking sensor readings of the air. It was five months to the day since I first saw her wobbling at high speed around the pen where she was being held. How can one undersized corgi become an oversized part of your life in just five months?

On her last day, Cleo slept on the bed, ate lots of treats, rolled in the grass, took a few steps on her favorite trail, charmed one last stranger, and (briefly) chased a squirrel. That would be a good day for most humans. I’ll miss the war she waged against the chickadees in our backyard, the way she swam through the undergrowth in the forest, and how she would kick me awake at 3am because she was dreaming about chasing down a moose. Like most of us, in her dream life she was invincible.

Cheryl Strayed wrote in Wild, “The universe takes things away and never gives them back.” But the universe also gives you gifts. Cleo was a gift to us in a dark hour, and we’ll never regret taking a chance on her.

Cleo's tulip parade 041414
Tulips on parade.

Horace Silver, 1928-2014
Horace Silver was my favorite jazz pianist, though I didn’t discover him until his 1996 release, The Hard-Bop Grandpop. The man was a jazz institution and I came to him very late in his career. Two earlier albums that I know and can recommend are Blowin’ the Blues Away (1959) and especially Song for My Father (1964). RIP.

I was dreamin’ when I wrote this/forgive me if it goes astray
Let’s change the mood here. The Prince Project is on hold (just when were getting to the most notorious albums) because I am once again participating in the Clarion West Write-a-thon. I’m not going to blog about it because doing that last summer was insane. Instead, I’m signing off. See you on August 2. Enjoy your summer!

Random Pick of the Day
The Beatles, Revolver (1966)
Four things strike me as I listened to Revolver after many years of not listening to it:

One is that The Beatles embarked on 14 separate explorations of new musical pathways and brought each of them home in a concise 2-3 minutes. Arcade Fire or Pink Floyd would still be playing.

Two is that the album begins with something as mundane as taxes and ends with the Tibetan Book of the Dead. (Do the Tibetans read any fun books?)

Three is that “She Said She Said” would fit into any alt-rock radio playlist in 1986, 1996, 2006, and probably in 2166.

Four is that The Beatles’ experiment with Indian music is like punk’s flirtation a decade later with reggae – interesting, but only to a point, which in The Beatles’ case will come the following year on Sgt. Pepper.

A must-own album. But you already do.

In January we adopted an undersize corgi in need of rescue. Cleo is the abridged version of this type of dog – instead of weighing in around 30 pounds, she only weighs 20. She’s so small that we thought she was not far beyond puppyhood, but our vet says she’s a senior citizen – 10 or 11.

Cleo’s miniaturized frame works well for her because one of her back legs doesn’t work well at all. She probably has the same degenerative nerve condition that struck our last dog, Teddy. Her light weight makes it easier for her other legs to do most of the work. And they do!

Cleo running Jan 2014

This dog streaks like a missile across lawns and beaches and through any open door. She can outrun me in a sprint but not in a marathon. It was when I saw her racing around the perimeter of the large grassy pen where she was being held that I knew I wanted to give this dog a chance. She has a rage to live.

Cleo running looks from behind like a hook-and-ladder fire truck, except there’s no one steering on the back end.

When she’s not charging into the forest to chase another squirrel or racing around the base of our quince bush scolding the chickadees and goldfinches that perch there, she’s happy to curl up and sleep. On the bed, on the couch, on a pile of towels. She loves everyone and expects them all to love her. When we walk her at Reed College, she elicits a cascade of ooohs from coeds that we call The Sopranos Effect. She doesn’t like being left out. She can’t handle stairs, so if I’m downstairs she comes to the landing at the top and makes clicking sounds like the primitive drumbeats in Battlestar Galactica.

Manz Mar 14 Steve vs Cleo
Run-DMSteve takes Cleo for an al fresco editorial conference.

Yesterday we let her off the leash on a baseball field to play with another corgi. This other corgi owned a ball. It turns out that every ball Cleo sees belongs to her and she immediately transformed into Bilbo face-to-face with the Ring. The two dogs ran in circles, barking and snarling, with all of the humans shouting, which to dogs sounds like now we’re all barking. I cut off one of their circles (I haven’t owned herding dogs all these years without learning something) and tackled Cleo with a last-ditch slide. This is too much raging.

I’ve put off writing about Cleo because frankly, given her age and what’s going on with her back leg, we don’t know how long she’s going to last. But she’s already become a valued team member here at the Bureau. She’s probably going to win Employee of the Month for March. It’s time I introduced her.

Tomorrow: What I did on my mid-winter vacation!

Random Pick of the Day
The Smithereens, Blown to Smithereens (1995)
If The Beatles had stayed together, and if in the 1980s they got tired of listening to Simple Minds and Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark and decided to record something hard and dark but closer to their rock ’n’ roll roots, they might’ve come up with something similar to this.

The Smithereens are a solid band, though some of their songs do trudge along. If you like sad, they can deliver. “Beauty & Sadness” and “Only a Memory” touch the heart. “A Girl Like You” and “House We Use to Live in” rock so very hard. “Miles From Nowhere” borrows riffs from but none of the fun of The B-52s’ “Roam” and Duran Duran’s “Rio.” “Time Won’t Let Me” is a really bad cover.

And now that I’ve twice put “Rio” in your head, let’s all enjoy one of the funniest videos of all time. Oh, to dress in a tailored suit and engage in lip synchronization on a sailboat! If only they could’ve worked this into All Is Lost.

Teddy Ballgame

Posted: June 13, 2013 in Dog reviews, Miscellaneous
Tags: , , ,

Teddy 08

His original name was Schroeder. He’d lost two homes by the time he was four. His first home was overcrowded. His second was negligent. He lived on the streets for a week. He came to us in October 2004 through CorgiAid and a series of coincidences worthy of  A Tale of Two Cities or Les Misérables. We named him Teddy, after a collie my Dad’s family had in the 1950s. Teddy won the lottery, and that first month we had him, the Red Sox won the World Series. We gave him his first nickname, Teddy Ballgame, after the great Red Sox left fielder Ted Williams.

Like all pets, Teddy collected many other names (Teodoro, Teddilini, Teddilicious, The Tedster, Mr. T.), but the important thing to him was having a permanent address. He worked hard to fit in. He studied us as if we were his senior thesis. He was younger, larger, and stronger than our senior dog, Emma, but he bared his neck to her and followed her lead. (When Emma decided to retire, she ceded all of her duties to Teddy, even though they had no written language and no HR department to manage the transition.)

Watch and learn, kid
Emma to Teddy: “Watch and learn, kid!”

In 2005, my sister and her daughter, Isabelle, visited us. Isabelle was 6. We couldn’t predict how Teddy would act with a small child. We found out later that Teddy had had these creatures in his first home. He melted in Isabelle’s presence. Anything she wanted to do, he’d do. Isabelle wrote Teddy a couple of letters after she left. Teddy dutifully answered them. Isabelle wanted to believe that Teddy was corresponding with her, but she had her suspicions. She told my mother, “I think Uncle Stevie is helping Teddy write these letters.”

Critters in motion
Critters in motion.

Teddy was a champion sleeper who could launch himself at his bed from three feet away and land curled up and conked out. But wide awake he ran amuck whenever visitors arrived. Then he found himself in lockdown (the back room). He was not much of a cuddler. He wrestled when you picked him up. He wrestled when you brushed him. He wrestled when you toweled him off. He barked louder than God and was more stubborn than Pharaoh. It was impossible not to love him.

Steve + Teddy guard the house 0607
Steve and Teddy guard the house.

Teddy never chased squirrels or cats out of our yard unless we made an official request. He disapproved of cats outside and feared them inside. He once tried to climb on Deborah’s head when a cat entered the room where they were sitting. He was not a good puppy player – he either didn’t like other dogs or didn’t know what to do with them. He wasn’t overweight but he was built like a tank. (A vet told me, “No, tanks are built like Teddy.”) He disliked running – even when he was young, I could outrun him. He wouldn’t run after an object unless that object was an Alpo Snap.

Teddy & tulips 1 April 2008
Ready for the county fair.

There was no place Teddy would rather be than with us, whether he was sleeping on the cool tiles of the hearth while we watched TV or under the table while we talked or riding in the car and hearing our voices or walking the banks of the Boise River or the beach at Manzanita or a college campus here in Portland. He especially liked it when we were all at home. Sometimes he’d sit on the back deck and look through the window at us inside. I like to think he was marveling at his good fortune, but he was a herding dog. Maybe he was just congratulating himself on keeping both of us in the barn.

Teddy waits for a lift 0108
Stairway to Teddy.

Our friend Bob says that when a dog can’t be a dog anymore, you’ve reached the end. As pet owners we have to have the guts to recognize that and act on it. We did that today. Teddy was 13. He’d come a long way for a small dog who started off in Tulsa and was homeless in Idaho.

Iron Mt 070410 wildflowers
Teddy conquers the wilderness.

Teddy loved kibble, scrambled eggs, baby carrots, the stalks of romaine leaves, rawhide chews, sidewalk mystery snacks, all representatives of the U.S. Postal Service, and coeds. For years he patiently sat on his pillow in the living-room window and watched the street until he willed us both to return home. I’ll miss that furry face in the window, our guardian, friend, and fellow traveler. Farewell, Teddy Ballgame, and thank you for walking us all this way.

Teddy worried about the snow 1208

Our current dog, Storm Small, doesn’t care for music. He certainly doesn’t care for anything I care to play. He puts up with the music from the television only because the television sits in the same room where he prefers to sleep. I think he enjoys the piano at the beginning of Battlestar Galactica. He won’t admit it, though.

But our first dog, Emma, was an astute critic with a complicated relationship with music. It was based on geography. If I was working in the garage and she was at her post in the open door, making sure I didn’t wander away and get lost, she made no objection to anything that played on the radio. Unless it was “Been Caught Stealing” by Jane’s Addiction. When I heard the opening guitar I knew I had about three seconds to hit OFF before the dogs on the song started barking and Emma went to DEFCON 1.

Things were different indoors, where Emma slept for years under my desk. Everything was fine until I took my headphones off. Emma would stay put for music by Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Telemann, and their Baroque contemporaries, but not for anything earlier or later. Chanting made her growl, and she had a particular dislike for the Seattle scene of the ’90s. Also for Pink Floyd. When confronted with Soundgarden or Dark Side of the Moon, she’d pack up and find someplace else for her regularly scheduled day-long nap.

What’s in a name? I’ll tell you what’s in a name
In the late ’90s, I worked for a computer game company called Sierra On-Line. Sierra On-Line has been bought and sold many times (twice while I was there); today it’s just a name they slap on a box or a download. But in those days the company was alive and well and churning out games, most of them with “Quest” in the title, such as Quest for Glory, King’s Quest, Police Quest, and Space Quest (but not Jonny Quest).

Quest for Glory was a fantasy role-playing game with a sense of humor. Puns, anyway. The fifth title in the series, Quest for Glory: Dragon Fire, featured a soundtrack by the composer Chance Thomas. You can get something done with a name like Chance. It sounds just like Race Bannon from Jonny Quest, and he was the guy who was always saving his egghead employer from yetis, spies, and aliens. One of my chess kids was named Chance. He’s in high school now, but while I had him he once shaved a dollar sign into his hair. He has a brother named Hurricane (of course he has a brother named Hurricane), who is in the fifth grade and who dunks his head in a bucket of ice water before every tournament. Oh, why was I named Steve??

I traded emails with Chance Thomas as our career paths crossed, and when QFG: Dragon Fire wrapped he generously sent me a CD of the soundtrack. Fantasy RPGs aren’t my thing, no matter how funny they are, and I figured that Chance’s soundtrack wouldn’t be either (it wasn’t), but he had taken the time to send it so I played it.

I don’t remember it now, except that it was fairly dramatic and occasionally raucous and nothing like the serenity of Handel’s Water Music. And yet, though I was not wearing my headphones, Emma didn’t abandon her den under my desk. In fact, the music made her relax. In fact, as the music progressed she reached her relaxation release point, which I detected around the 30-minute mark. I immediately deployed one of the emergency candles I kept at my desk for this purpose. When you own a dog you laugh every day, though sometimes it’s not until the next day.

My father-in-law was fond of saying that dogs have only one thing to say and only one way to say it. Emma had more tools in her critical repertoire than you’d expect from a dog, and she displayed a talent for brevity that I lack. In the time it took me to write these 700 words, Emma would’ve made her opinion known and gone outside to eat a bug. I don’t understand the opinion she was expressing with her violation of the international ban on chemical warfare, but then I don’t always understand Village Voice critic Robert Christgau, either.

If there’s a lesson here, it escapes me. I wrote this because I heard “Been Caught Stealing” and realized I only knew the first three seconds.

 

Emma: Nine Inch Nails, Pretty Hate Machine

Flying baby

Sailor: Guns N’ Roses, Appetite for Destruction

Teddy: Blue Cheer, Louder Than God

Emma and Sailor are gone but Teddy barks on!

Addendum from the future (2016):

Manz Mar 14 Cleo in flight

Cleo: Quicksilver Messenger Service, Happy Trails